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Tourism

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 10:20 am on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage 10:20 am, 29th November 1996

The fact that the Secretary of State's response seemed to be prompted by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), who is sitting behind her, is rather a joke, in this context. The hon. Gentleman is running away from the electorate of Blackpool, South to seek a safer seat somewhere else, so clearly he does not have much confidence in Government policies for tourism in Blackpool. He is abandoning the electors of Blackpool and seeking safer pastures, so he is the last person who should be complaining about Labour party policy on tourism.

I am encouraged by the Select Committee's report not least because it shares and complements many of the policies set out in our policy document. That document was widely welcomed, not only by Mr. Geoffrey Thompson but by the chairman of the British Tourist Authority; by Mr. Richard Branson; by Mr. Jeremy Logie, the chief executive of the British Hospitality Association; by Juliet Simpkins, the director of public affairs of the Tussaud group; by Mr. Ken Robinson, the chairman of the Tourism Society; by Charles Allen of Granada and by many other leading operators in the tourism and hospitality industries. Unlike the Conservative party, we have a policy and a strategy. The Conservative party has no policy that anyone in the industry or any Opposition Member can discern.

The Select Committee report earned a complimentary welcome, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and his colleagues. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who enjoys considerable support across the tourism and hospitality sector for the excellent groundwork that he has done in the development of our policy document.

It is clear that our culture, heritage, museums, galleries, theatres, sports arenas and countryside have tremendous potential to attract even more visitors to Britain. A Labour Government introduced the Development of Tourism Act 1969, which created the tourist boards. We remain convinced about their importance and their activities in promoting the tourist industries. It was a ground-breaking Act when it was introduced and it has stood the test of time. We should also reflect that some Conservative Members of Parliament went into the Lobby to oppose the Act at the time. Labour's record on tourism is a good one and it is sad, and an indication of the indifference of the Conservative party, that in 17 years, it has made no attempt to update or improve on the workings of the Act, which we think is due for an overhaul.

With transport, energy, the environment and consumer affairs all impinging in important ways upon tourism, it is clear that more consideration needs to be given to cross-departmental co-operation in the interests of more effective tourism policies. It was surprising to hear the Secretary of State say that she did not want to respond to questions on transport and transport infrastructure. If after all this time in office, she has not made the connection between tourism and the importance of flexible and successful transport policies in providing access to other parts of the country, she has made a huge mistake. A disaggregated industry such as tourism needs sustained Government support and direction across all Departments if it is ever to achieve its full potential.

Recent cuts in the funding of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board have exposed the staggering short-sightedness of the Secretary of State and her Government colleagues. Obviously, her colleagues have either forgotten what she has been saying about tourism or they have completely ignored the opinions that she has been expressing, not only to the House today, but in earlier debates and discussions about the significance of the industry to us all. When one considers that for every pound spent on promotion by the British Tourist Authority there is a return of some £27 to the British economy, the prudence of maintaining its budget and investment is apparent. But yet again this week, we have seen a cut in the allocation from the right hon. Lady to the BTA.

Britain should take greater advantage of the economic potential in the tourism sector. Tourism will be the largest industry in the world by the end of the millennium. Yet on recent performance, Britain's share of increasing world tourism is in relative decline. If we had simply retained our share of that global market in the past 10 years, we could perhaps have had 200,000 more jobs in our economy today. We have a £5.6 billion deficit on our tourism balance of trade, and that is why the further cuts in the BTA budget, and that of the English tourist board, seem so senseless to us. This short-term, budget-cutting measure will cost us much more in the medium and longer term.

The tourism, hospitality and related industries have many attractions for an incoming Labour Government—something many of the industries hope to see. First, the industries are truly nationwide, and have considerable growth potential. They create jobs, stimulate local economies and promote investment in our cultural industries, heritage, sport and arts. There is a complementary mix of small, medium and large enterprises, and we can build on and extend current performance. The question is, what needs to be done to unlock that considerable potential?

Here are the core issues on the agenda. First—this is a failure on the part of the Secretary of State—it is absolutely essential to establish a political understanding of the importance of the industries to the whole of our economy across all Government Departments. That has not been done in the 17 years of Conservative Government, and it is clear from the events of this week that the Secretary of State faces an uphill struggle in trying to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that importance. Coherence in policy making across the many Departments of Government will be a primary objective for Labour.

Secondly, a review of the existing policy frame work and the methods for delivering it is needed, and that should include the various options within the industries. The Secretary of State had nothing new to say today about the existing framework for the delivery of effective policies for tourism and leisure in the British economy. We also believe in the need for a statutory scheme of registration to be phased in over an appropriate period. That policy has earned widespread support in the industries, which want such a scheme exactly because they believe that it will help them to strengthen their market share and to improve the quality of product. Many people in the industries have made it clear that it will also stop bad employers undercutting good ones and driving the market down.

Britain's performance in providing advice, guidance and information to visitors—particularly overseas visitors—can and should be dramatically improved. We are inept in some respects in providing helpful and easily accessible information to visitors to our country—including, I regret to say, in the capital city, London. We should make a concerted effort to improve the provision of help and information to tourists. The impact of transport policies needs to be analysed—especially rail privatisation, which is affecting the ability of many areas to attract even existing levels of visitors, let alone to build upon them.

We must initiate a wide-ranging debate on sustainable tourism, and that is also on our agenda. I was pleased to see—I compliment her on it—that it is also on the agenda of the Secretary of State. I am happy to have a debate with the right hon. Lady and her colleagues about the social chapter and its consequences for the tourism and hospitality industries, whom I believe have nothing to fear from it. Contrary to what she has said, the social chapter will not impose other nations' social costs on Britain. Nor does it—to knock down another myth from Conservative Members—have anything to do with earnings.

Allied to those discussions must be a higher priority for training and skills in tourism, as in other industries. There are plenty of examples in Britain—for example, York city council's successful York tourist employer of distinction policy, which is a good and succesful model that other local authorities can follow.

The case for the tourism and hospitality industries on the impact of a minimum wage will be effectively presented to a low pay commission to be established by a Labour Government. The industry has that commitment not only from me, but from my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party. A Labour Government will establish such a commission because we are aware of the need to consult industry, commerce, unions and employees before any decision is taken.